Submitted by Linda Scott, Watertown Resident
Information lodged in mythical/moving spaces …
Extremely long surveys with no obvious “save” function …
Sticky notes rather than conversation …
Underplaying or omitting what residents are actually saying in government reports …
Information “hidden” in plain sight …
Meeting notes for City meetings not updated or correct …
These are all things that stymie public participation, and yet residents persisted!
On March 9, 2023, a group of over 100 Watertown residents (according to the Comprehensive Plan consultants) came out (about 80 in person and 20 or more on zoom) to attempt to get their voices heard on the Comprehensive Plan … again.
We had the usual run of sticky notes on poster boards, but at one point, when residents had obediently filled in their “stickies,” one brave citizen stood up and insisted that we, as a group, have a chance to speak. There is a recording of that conversation that is frustratingly garbled beyond recognition … another roadblock to understanding.
Tonight, the Watertown Department of Community Development and Planning (DCDP) is going to argue against two petitions aimed, not at stopping growth, but at using discretion in how we do it in our city and residential neighborhoods. (See https://www.watertownmanews.com/2023/06/12/this-week-planning-board-hears-citizens-petitions-council-voting-on-budget/). These petitions were signed by over 600 residents. What aren’t reflected in their signatures are their comments:
“Thanks for doing this!” (standing outside getting signatures or going door to door).
“I’ll sign, but you’re wasting your time. The City doesn’t listen to residents anymore.”
“What’s happening to this City is ridiculous!”
The Planning Board, that is the deciding body for this type of thing (only superseded by the City Council), will be told by the DCDP that this is contrary to the Comprehensive Plan and should be rejected by them. “Let’s wait for the Comprehensive Plan to be approved,” they’ll say, ironically, while quietly planning amongst themselves to load downtown with more of the same.
How do I know this? I had a conversation with the City Manager. It went something like this: ”In regard to the MBTA Law, we intend to build.” He spoke of one very large building that he’d like to see built on a parcel land if Watertown could get a hold of it. (Note: in 1985 this piece of land was proposed as a green open space, again, if Watertown could gain control of it.) When told that buildings like that would not make sense for Watertown families, he acknowledged that but said that in Somerville that type of building was found very attractive to foreign students and their families. That’s great. Nothing wrong with students, foreign or otherwise, but what about Watertown families??
And before people who live in homogenous Watertown neighborhoods, scream, “Where’s our diversity???!” Come visit my street. Off the top of my head, besides Irish and Italians, we’ve got Greeks, Armenians, Peruvians, Columbians, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, Albanians, and African Americans. We’re a melting pot, and it’s great!! But my neighbors who are in real jeopardy are the renters, who are a paycheck, a rent raise and a developer away from having to leave their Watertown homes.
So, in an attempt to give you an idea of how in sync with the Comprehensive Plan these petitions are, here’s what the consultants say were the most frequent “sticky” comments that night:
Enhance Character and Quality of Life [taken verbatim from plan]
Strategies with most marks for “strategies you think are important”: 2B, 2A, 2H Comments:
- [2A] MBTA law doesn’t require all new units in one single area! Please consider adding more areas for this MBTA law!!
- [2A] Fountain and benches in delta. Trees needed in delta and all nearby streets!
- [2B] And be more welcoming to ppl who don’t live there o^ agree!
- [2D] Address vacant store front with variety of uses
- [2G] We should be focusing on growing our neighborhoods so they are vibrant places, not trying to erase(sic) them in amber. We are Watertown, not Weston!
- [2G] “Preserving neighborhood character” is a phrase rooted in illegal racial covenant’s from the 1900’s used to exclude people. It has no place in our town plan.
- [2G] Design Guidelines! Let’s do it this time.
- [2H] Legalize building zoning is undue burden except for safety
- [2H] Keep building height to 4 floors lower
- Move utilities underground along Arsenal Street
- Don’t overcrowd the square! Be more open!
Watertown Comprehensive Plan – Draft Plan Open House Feedback
- $2,451 /month for studio apt., aiming for diversity? Ha Ha Fairy Tale
- Cap building height when abutting residential neighborhoods
- End the “mechanical floor” loophole
- Outside eating, beer garden
- Create plan for walking square elements – reroute traffic
- Bathrooms!! Lack of bathrooms is a barrier to many older people, It often deters people from being out and about.
- No short-term rentals, aka AirBnB’s, in Watertown. We don’t need businesses in residential areas with strangers coming and going
- Limit bldg height to 4 floors
- Besides “maintain” some neighborhoods need vast “improvement”
- 900k sqft of un-leased lab space. Other use?
- Expand Watertown Library, More Live music venues
- Encourage more set-back on ground floor to make it easier to passengers/ visitors/ walkers.
- To improve quality of life some enforcement of care of property especially when rental property is neglected
- Watertown neighborhoods – concern about traffic
- Add more green strips on the square sidewalk
- Increase Density. Give young folks a chance to buy into town long term
- Consider use of former police station to promote community engagement/ the arts
- Encourage renovation of historic home instead of tearing them down to make condos. Lack of single-family homes has people moving out to the burbs after they have their 2nd child
- Preserve “neighborhood character” is REAL needed, and zoning uses are protected by SJC – this is not a “NIMBY” excuse or anti-affordable housing, but quality of life and community connections
- Pg.8 – Says we asked residents what elements may be added or removed to represent their current vision of the future in Watertown. If we can only comment with post its our voices aren’t being heard. We have no way of knowing what comments or summary of comments are. We have no way of knowing what ideas were listed or considered
- Pg.32 – Says need for considerations of building heights, setbacks, design character and other factors should guide substantial renovations and new construction. These standards seem to be ignored. If you look at many of these developments they are too close to the sidewalks, are too high, and lack any real character. The proposed Main St. development in the Post office block looks too modern and it’s too high. It should have a design that fits into the area. Look at the character of our older buildings like the city hall and the library. Don’t let the developers develop
what they want to save money. They often build these buildings and then move on. They don’t really care about the cities and towns afterwards. Our Planners should truly represent us and our needs and wants/o ^yes!
- Pg.75 – Says city wants to transform areas such as Pleasant St Corridor, Watertown Sq, Coolidge St and Arsenal St Corridor. Ask and listen to the residents on how they want this to happen. More than likely the Planners aren’t living in those areas and don’t have the same ideas as the residents.
Just two more thoughts
Reference to Design Guidelines, a document we taxpayers paid for as a companion piece to our last Comprehensive Plan…read it and weep: https://gambleassoc.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/0-DOWNLOAD-WATERTOWN.pdf
There’s a reference to “We are Watertown, not Weston.” Here’s what that’s about.
One young man got up to berate the group for not letting people like him build two family homes
next to some residents’ “Fancy white houses.” He accused us of thinking that we were Weston.
Another young man got up to counter him and said, “We are not Weston, but we’re not Brighton
either. We Are Watertown!” A vigorous round of applause.
So, what do you think? How’s our City doing so far??